The Common Core stresses student’s ability to work independently. This is met through the final component of this project which is an actual application of all the skills practiced throughout the week. The premise of the assignment is for students to work in groups and determine one person or event that they feel deserves commemoration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. We open by discussing the symbolic significance of having a monument located here as opposed to other places throughout the country. This also helps students narrow down their pool of individuals/events. They make decisions about the political and nationalistic nature of Washington D.C. and what it represents, causing them to choose people/events that are more central to the formation or identity of our country. Then, each student is asked to research their person/event for important facts, details, and quotations. The groups come together, discuss their research, and begin plotting their path.
The only stipulations I give the students is that
- They must provide me 5 separate sources about their person/event annotated thoroughly,
- They use their research to inform their views,
- They write a persuasive speech that will convince their judges (“representatives” from the National Park Service or NPS—aka my administrators) that their proposal for a monument should be accepted and
- They produce some sort of illustration of how they envision the monument.
When they are writing their persuasive speeches I limit them to one page single-spaced and remind them that the judges might ask them questions but they should include everything in their speech they think the judges need to know in order to select their proposal as the winning design. On the day of the presentations they will be asked to read their proposal (which is their persuasive speech) to the judges and then answer any questions they might ask. As a result, they have to utilize their knowledge of the persuasive appeals and rhetorical devices studied with Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” when constructing their proposal. I also ask the students to create a visual of their monument. Some students are very artistic and will fully sketch the design; others will locate images of the individual/event that they would like sculpted into the monument. I stress that the point of the visual is to elucidate their vision to their readers, not necessarily to serve as a final blueprint.
What I like best about this project is that there are so few specific guidelines, causing the students to make decisions about what is most important. This forces them to think about the counter argument, their peer’s monuments, what the audience (the NPS) might be looking for, and even makes them consider the historical significance of other monuments on the National Mall as a way to gauge what interests the officials. From beginning to end (including days to work on it in school), this project takes no more than a week. Every year my administrators enjoying hearing the proposals and asking the students challenging questions. Overall, this is one of the best things I do to prepare my students for the AP English Language exam, yet I never once mention the exam or test prep. The project so organically addresses the exam and the Common Core standards that it is an excellent way to assess and utilize multiple skills.
Image of Henry Bacon’s (architect for the Lincoln Memorial) sketch from Library Congress